“It’s the easiest babysitting hack known to modern adults attempting to pacify a fussy baby: Take a smartphone, find a game or show, put it in the child’s hands, and—lo and behold! The kid is quiet, eyes wide, and still.
And that magic trick seems to extend to children who can crawl, tots who are just stringing together words, kids toddling into preschool, and—most obviously, at least when it comes to psychological research—tweens and teens hunched over their smartphones, oblivious to the world.
That worries a group of Apple investors, who are calling on the company to investigate what effects this screen time has on children’s brains and development. In a letter co-signed by New York investment firm JANA Partners and Anne Sheehan, the director of corporate governance at the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (the largest public teacher’s pension fund in the country), the investors implore the tech giant to fund research into what their ubiquitous products might do to a child’s brain.
After all, infants and toddlers aren’t using the internet to stalk their exes or dissect the latest cryptic Taylor Swift tweet. They’re primarily using it as an entertainment device replacing, at the most high-tech end, a television show with squealy puppets, and at the low-tech end, a parent regaling a child with tales.
That’s part of the reason why judging the effects of touch screens—smartphones, tablets, and their ilk—is so difficult: the fact that they’re new. The iPhone just celebrated its 10th birthday, so there’s not much history for figuring out how the smartphone may have changed how we think. And what makes all this even more difficult is trying to figure out when exactly tech addiction could kick in.”